A new family of drugs targeting hard-to-treat cancers are on the horizon thanks to joint research by Cancer Research UK and a leading US oncology institute.

After working with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, CRUK’s Cancer Research Technology has announced the discovery of a "potent and selective inhibitor" of protein kinase D called CRT0066101, which inhibits the growth of pancreatic tumours.

Sushovan Guha who leads the laboratory at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, said: “We are very optimistic about CRT0066101’s pharmacological potential. We believe this is the first orally-administered small-molecule inhibitor of PKD with significant biological efficacy in pre-clinical animal models of pancreatic cancer.

He added: “My conviction is that we will show the drug can also prevent the proliferation of cancer cells by blocking their supply of blood – through neo-angiogenesis.” Further studies have shown that CRT0066101 is also effective at inhibiting the growth of tumours in a lung cancer model.

CRT’s discovery laboratories director Hamish Ryder said: “We focused on pancreatic and lung cancer tumours because they represent cancers with a significant unmet medical need.” He also believes that the drug had the potential to treat other cancers, too.

PKD is a newly identified family of serine/threonine kinases comprising PKD1, PKD2 and PKD3. Their potential as new drug targets was also discovered by CRUK scientists.

The researchers believe PKD plays a central role in encouraging the growth of cancer cells. In addition, they claim evidence that PKD aids tumour cell survival, and helps the formation of new blood vessels that enable tumours to spread around the body.

The results were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research conference in Colorado.